535. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide a brief outline of the changes consequent to the Parole Act 2019 and the particular way that this legislation impacts on eligibility for parole; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43260/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): As the Deputy will be aware, the establishment of the Parole Board on a statutory footing is a priority action under Justice Plan 2021 and is a key commitment in the Programme for Government.
The relevant legislation was enacted in July 2019 and last month I announced the commencement of the Parole Act and the establishment of the new Parole Board.
The purpose of the Act is to place the parole process on a statutory footing and establish an independent, statutory Parole Board to decide on parole applications.
The new Parole Board will make its decisions to grant or refuse parole independently from the Minister for Justice and will replace the old Parole Board which has been in place since 2001.
The Act sets out clear and transparent criteria for how the Board will reach its decisions, which will be independent of the Minister of the day. In terms of the changes to the Parole system, the time which must be served by a life-sentence prisoner before being considered for parole has increased from 7 to 12 years. It is worth noting however, that over the past 10 years the average sentence served by a life sentenced prisoner before being released on parole was 18 years and in 2019 it was 20 years. In addition, only life sentenced prisoners are currently eligible to apply for parole under the Act.
Parole applicants and victims can make submissions to the new Parole Board and may avail of legal representation during the submission process.
An information guide in respect of the changes to the Parole process since the commencement of the Act is available to all of those who are in the custody of the Irish Prison Service and who are impacted by the new process. In addition prison Governors are available to answer any questions prisoners may have in regards to their sentence management.